Anda di halaman 1dari 81

A Brief History of Physics

Based on A Brief History of Physics

I. In the beginning

Physics began when the first thinking

creature wondered, why?
Why did the rain fall at certain times?
Why was there a perpetual cycle of light
(day) and dark (night)?

I. In the beginning

Why could one type of pain be remedied by

eating while many others could not be remedied
at all?
Why did females give birth and why did living
things die?
Why did things move as they did?
Why, why, why?

II. The Greeks


The first people to deal with these

questions on a rational basis (i.e.,
without reference to
gods or magic) were the Greeks.

II. The Greeks


The Greeks held the process of reasoning

in high esteem.
Experimentation was generally considered


Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) devised

the first comprehensive explanation for
Aristotles explanation was based
on the concept of natural places.


The Greeks were also fascinated by the

heavens, and Aristotle deduced that the
planets, the moon, and the sun traveled in
perfect circles around the earth.
Ptolemy (TAH leh mee) worked out an
awkward mathematical explanation of the
geocentric solar system (Ptolemaic
epicycles) in the 2nd century C.E.

III. The Copernican Revolution


Nicolaus Copernicus

The heavens continued to fascinate

those who asked why? and in 1543, a
Pole by the
name of Nicolaus Copernicus (14731543) suggested that the sun was at
the center of the solar system, and the
earth and other planets orbited around
By then, however, the Greek view of
nature had persisted so long, it had

Copernicus was aware of the

controversy his theory would bring; he
did not publish his
work until he was near death.
A supporter of Copernicus heliocentric
(sun-centered) model was burned at the
stake for espousing this heretical
Galileo was chastised and imprisoned

Johannes Kepler

The truth prevailed, however, and the

heliocentric model became well
established with the mathematical
work of Johannes
Kepler (1571-1630) of Germany.

IV. The Time of Galileo


Galileo Galilei

The Italian scientist Galileo Galilei

(1564-1642) is credited with
asserting the importance of
experimentation in the study of nature.

In addition to promoting Copernicus

heliocentric model, Galileo discovered
that all objects fall at the same rate.

V. Newtonian Mechanics

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was born

the same year that Galileo died and is
considered by many to be the greatest
physicist ever.
Newton reaffirmed Galileos findings
about motion.
He went on to explain the relation of
force to the resulting motion and how
objects interact.

VI. After Newton:


Benjamin Franklin

Although Newton demystified motion

and forces and gravity, he left many
wonders of
nature unexplained.
Electric charge was one.
American Benjamin Franklin (17061790)
experimented with electricity and
explained a great deal of the behavior
of electric charge.

Charles Coulomb

Frenchman Charles Coulomb (17361806) discovered the law that

describes the strength of electric force.

Alessandro Volta

Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), an

Italian physicist, put together the first
electric battery.

George Ohm

German Georg Ohm (1787-1854)

was the first to publish details of
electric circuits.

Robert Millikan

American Robert Millikan (18681953) determined that electric charge

comes in small, indivisible packets

Hans Orsted

Magnetism had mystified many when

in 1820, a Danish high school physics
teacher by the name of Hans
Christian rsted (1777-1851) found
that electric current created a
magnetic effect.

Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday (1791-1867), a

brilliant English experimenter with only
a grammar school education, found
that a moving magnet induces electric
current to flow.

James Clerk Maxwell


Based on rsteds and Faradays

findings, Scottish physicist James
Clerk Maxwell
(1831-1879) was able to
mathematically unify electricity and
magnetism into what he
called electromagnetism.

VII. Light

What was it made of? Why does it

behave as it does?
Newton postulated that light was a
stream of particles, or corpuscles.
Others argued that light was some sort
of wave, like sound.

Thomas Young

The Newtonian view was held by many

until 1801, when Thomas Young
(1773-1827) conducted an
experiment in which light behaved in a
way that could not be explained by the
particle model, but could be explained
in terms of wave phenomena.

In unifying electricity and magnetism,

Maxwell determined that light was a form of
electromagnetism: an electromagnetic
However, the argument was not over. With
the rise of quantum theory came the waveparticle duality which not only describes
electromagnetic radiation as having
properties of both waves and particles, but
also specifies that all objectslarge and
smallhave wave characteristics

Erwin Schrodinger

Louis de Broglie

Much of this work is credited to

Austrian physicist Erwin Schrdinger
(1887-1961) and French physicist
Louis de Broglie (1892-1987).

VIII. Relativity

Until 1881, physicists believed that

there was a substance that pervaded
the universe called Ether.
Ether was thought to be the stuff
through which electromagnetic waves
traveled (in the same sense that sound
waves travel through air).

Albert Michelson

Edward Morley

In 1881, however, American physicist

Albert Michelson (1852-1931) and
chemist Edward Morley (1838-1923)
conducted a clever experiment that
showed that Ether did not exist.

Albert Einstein

German-born American physicist

Albert Einsteins (1879-1955)
Theory of Relativity is based,
somewhat, on the fact that Ether does
not exist.
It had previously been thought that the
earth was a body that moved through
the Ether, which was at rest in an
absolute sense.

A fundamental principle of relativity is

that there is no absolute frame of
reference that is
at rest.
For example, you may think you are
motionless right now; but you are
moving on a spinning earth, which also
moves around the sun, which is a star
moving around the hub of the Milky
Way galaxy, which is moving through
space as the universe expands.

Most importantly, relativity explains

that mass and energy are two forms of
the same thing, and even gives the
mathematical relationship of the two in
the most famous equation of the
twentieth century:
E = mc2.

IX. Quantum Theory


Max Planck

It seemed that the energy in the light

did not increase or decrease in a
smooth, continuous manner, but rather
it increased or decreased in steps, as if
the energy came in discrete packets.
Planck called these tiny energy
packets quanta and suggested that all
light was emitted in specific numbers
of quanta.

Many physicists scoffed, but Einstein

accepted it and in 1905 advanced
quantum theory by contending that
light was also absorbed in discrete

Neils Bohr

The next advance in quantum theory

came in 1913 when Danish physicist
and former member of the
championship All-Danish soccer team,
Neils Bohr (1885-1962), advanced
a model of the Hydrogen atom based
on the new quantum theory.

Bohrs model of the atom replaced the

classical Rutherford atom, which
depicts the atom as a miniature solar
system with a nucleus at the center
and electrons circling outside.

Quantum mechanics do not fix cars, or

even quantums; rather it is a field in
quantum principles are applied to the
inner workings of atoms.

Wolfgang Pauli

One of the accomplishments in

quantum mechanics is the Pauli
exclusion principle, advanced by
Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli
(1900-1958) in 1925.

The Pauli Exclusion Principle excludes

two electrons in the same atom from
having the same four quantum

Werner Heisenberg

Another famous finding of quantum

mechanics is the Heisenberg
Uncertainty Principle. In
1927, Werner Heisenberg (19011976) of Germany stated that it is
impossible to know
both the position and speed of an
electron at the same time.

Any method of measuring the electrons

position would change the electrons speed;
measuring the electrons speed alters its
It is as if you walked into a dark room with a
flashlight, looking for your car keys. But as
soon as the light from your flashlight hits an
object, the object is blown out of its position
as if struck with a great force. You spot the
car keys, but immediately they are blasted
across the room to a new position.

X. The Grand Unification


Among the few rules of the universe are

the rules regarding the four fundamental
forces: gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear
weak and nuclear strong.
A Grand Unified Theory (GUT) is one that
shows how all four descended from a
superforce that existed only in the earliest
stage of the big bang.

Remember that Maxwell had unified what

had been
thought were two separate forces: electricity
and magnetism.

Abdus Salam

Sheldon Glashow

Steven Weinberg

Recently, Pakistani Abdus Salam

(1926- ) and Americans Sheldon
Glashow (1932- ) and Steven
Weinberg (1933- ) have advanced a
theory connecting electromagnetism
and the weak nuclear force into the
electroweak force.
Unifying the other forces with gravity
seems to be the most difficult hurdle in
GUT thinking today.

So there you have it, a quick tour

through the history of physics. It is by
no means comprehensive; many
exciting aspects were left out, but it
does cover the central advances
in our understanding of the universe.

Regarding the cavemans questions in

section I, our
understanding of physics in the field of
atmospheric science and meteorology allow
us to understand and predict weather
We have long since understood the
mechanics that result in night and day.
Advances in the science of biology, which is

The ultimate goal of physics is to understand

completely how the universe works.